Something to Celebrate
A Short Story by Kate Dillon
Written using the suggestion "Disco"
Originally featured on 03-23-2009
As part of our series "Where the Wild Words Are (Words Gone Wild!)"

Sarah used to celebrate things, when she was very young. Now, she was not allowed. Her religion didn’t let her have parties to celebrate or even exchange gifts. Sarah’s mom didn’t know about the classroom party—the note went straight to Sarah’s dad—and it was a party she had been looking forward to for weeks. She never got to celebrate birthdays or holidays with her friends. She sometimes got to celebrate it with her dad, though she’d have to hide any gifts she received when she went back to her mom’s. Birthdays at her mom’s house passed without a word, as did Christmas, Easter, and her other favorite holidays. Sarah missed celebrating those holidays with her family, when they were a family, but now that her step-dad had come, everything had changed.

She received the disco ball at the class Christmas gift exchange. It wasn’t a real disco ball, of course, but a miniature one. She was, after all, only nine years old, and a real disco ball would have been a bit much for a fourth grade party. She loved the disco ball, and the party, especially the party. The only way she even had a gift for the exchange was because her real Dad, the one who wasn’t part of her religion, secretly took her to the toy store in the mall and bought her a Business Woman Barbie, complete with briefcase.

When she unwrapped the disco ball and took it out of the package, exposing it to the glaring fluorescent classroom lights, it reflected the colors of the room and painted them in speckles over everything. The colors danced and everyone stared and the music started playing, a powerful, rapidly thumping beat, and the people came. They were laughing and eating shrimp cocktail with crackers and drinking a dark red liquid out of fancy glasses rimmed with lemon slices. It was a real, live party, the kind she definitely wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with. She looked around with a look of shock and half terror, half tentative excitement.

“What’s the matter, Sarah?” A woman in a short black dress with silver shoes and red lipstick hunched down and rested her hands on the young girl’s shoulders.

“How do you know my name?” Sarah asked.

“We all know your name, Sarah.” The music quieted and the dancing stopped and everybody looked at her and nodded sympathetically.

Sarah put the disco ball back in the box and the music stopped, the people disappeared, and she was back in class. Wrapping paper and bows flew to the floor and covered the desks, as she watched her classmates unwrap board games and dolls and GI Joes.

When Sarah got home from school that day, she immediately ran upstairs to her room, disco ball buried deep in her backpack. She yelled to her mom that she’d be busy with homework for a while, and locked the door behind her. She dug out the box from her backpack, tossing aside books and papers and colored pencils, and carefully removed the disco ball. She hesitated before she took it out of the box and dangled in front of her by two fingers. First the lights started, bright white and yellows from the sunshine streaming in the open window, pinks and purples from her checkered bedspread. The danced around the room like fairies, mesmerizing Sarah. Then the music started, the same powerful beat as before, thumping in Sarah’s heart. She closed her eyes and waited for them to come, for the people to come and for the party to start. She knew it was wrong but she liked it, the dancing and the laughing and the silliness, the carefree way people talked and hugged and kissed each other’s cheeks.

“Sarah, what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be doing your homework?” A man in a hawaiian shirt and tan oversized pants laughed and slapped her good-naturedly on the back.

“How did you know that I was supposed to be doing homework?” Sarah’s eyes jumped from one person to the next. Everyone around her was so interesting, so different from what she was used to. She looked back at the man in the funny shirt.

“Your books are scattered everywhere! They’re cluttering up the dance floor!” He laughed and walked away towards the bar.

Sarah let the people stay for a while. She liked them. Her mom was downstairs cooking dinner and she kept worrying that she would hear the music and come up to see what was going on, but every time Sarah checked on her she was still moving quickly around the kitchen in her apron. For a while, Sarah simply watched the party intently. Studying the people—so many different outfits and hairstyles and personalities; the music—such an intense pounding, words drowned out by laughter and conversation; the gourmet food, the dancing—they taught her moves she had never heard of; and, of course, the disco ball. It was big now, bigger than it had been, and was hanging in the center of the room. Sarah watched the patterns it created on the dark walls while everyone else began the salsa.

There was that one time that her mom still celebrated Sarah’s birthday after she got remarried. It was when she was still deciding if she wanted to follow his religion, and Sarah’s fifth birthday came along, and her mom didn’t know what to do. She secretly bought Sarah three My Little Pony dolls and told her to keep them hidden. Sarah still had them, hidden, along with all the other gifts her real Dad had gotten her. She had gotten used to her religion causing dilemmas like that. The people at school thought she was weird because she didn’t bring in cupcakes on her birthday like everyone else. Her dad thought her new religion was weird and he argued about it with her mom, which both bothered Sarah and reinforced her beliefs, because she thought her new religion was weird, too, and didn’t like it one bit. But she couldn’t figure out what to do about it. Now she had something, something that really changed things. She had something to celebrate.

Read More By Kate Dillon

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